When I planned a trip to Poland for my mother and her siblings, I knew that Karkow would be the first stop on our itinerary. I had a few things in mind when my Poland travel research began, and I reached out to a friend who visits the country regularly. The first thing he told me was, “You have to do a Wieliczka Salt Mine tour!”.
This got me intrigued, so I began down a rabbit hole of learning about the site and various tour options for visiting. I wasn’t sure what to expect – on its surface, the salt mine doesn’t seem very exciting. Boy was I wrong about that! Once I learned about the Wieliczka Salt Mine and different tour options I was sold. I booked tickets for mom, Mike, and myself and we were soon off to the excursion.
What is the Wieliczka Salt Mine?
Wieliczka is a small town in Poland about 30 minutes southeast of Krakow. For millennia, the Polish people have been utilizing salt deposits in the area for preserving meat and fish. In prehistoric times, water from the salt spring was gathered in clay pots and boiled down on a hearth to obtain salt.
The methods were passed down through the generations and specialization in salt production occurred. It became a valuable resource that was traded and used as a means of payment. However, the brine of the salt springs eventually dried up by the 11th century.
In the 11th through 13th centuries, wells were dug to continue salt gathering efforts. Eventually, in the 13th century, these saltwater wells were dug deeper and the first salt rocks were surfaced. The discovery revolutionized the process of gathering salt and mines were dug with four profitable shafts existing by the end of the 15th century.
The Wieliczka mines continued to produce salt and soon became a popular tourist attraction with Nicolaus Copernicus becoming one of the early visitors in 1493. In the centuries to come, the mine grew with new shafts and levels of digging. New salt extraction methods emerged and tourism at Wieliczka continued to expand.
Today the mines are no longer used for salt production, which peaked in the 1970s. Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is preserved as an important cultural and historical attraction in Poland.
Options for Booking a Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
When it comes to booking a Wieliczka Salt Mine tour, there are three options to consider. Each one is a guided tour and the public can only visit the mines with a guide – you don’t want to get lost down there! The three guided tours are:
- The Tourist Route
- The Miner’s Route
- The Pilgrim’s Route
As you’d expect, each tour covers a different path beneath the ground.
The Tourist's Route
The Tourist Route is by far the most popular Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour and it’s the option we went with when we visited the site.
Most guidebooks recommend this tour for first-time visitors and it makes sense because you get all the highlights of the mines and the physical activity is mild. As the name suggests, it’s best for tourists looking to experience the mines and learn about their place in history.
What You Experience
When you begin this route you are given an audio headset to listen to your guide as you descend over 100m below ground. The entry mineshaft is the Danilowicz shaft and each one has a unique name. Most are named for Polish Saints, Kings, and historical figures.
The descent is 380 wooden steps, but you can ease your mind knowing that you will take an elevator back up to the ground level after the tour ends.
The total tour route is over 3 km and the underground temperatures are cool, so bring long sleeves or dress in layers, even in the summer months.
Along this route, you learn about the history of the mine and the mining techniques used within its mineshafts. The highlights include intricate salt sculptures, underground saline lakes, and the stunning chapel of Saint Kinga – Europe’s only underground church.
We booked using GetYourGuide, and if you’ve followed us at all, you know that GYG is our go-to source for booking online tours and tickets. This was another case where I’m glad we booked with GetYourGuide because once we arrived in Karkow, my aunt and uncle decided not to join Mike, my mom, and me for this tour. It was simple and easy to cancel their booking and we weren’t charged for their tickets since we canceled 24 hours before the tour.
There are a few options for the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tourist Route of which you can find more information with these links:
The Miner's Route
An alternative to the popular Tourist Route is the Miner’s Route, a guided tour that focuses on the life of workers in the mine. If you decide to go with this option it does not cover any of the same ground as Tourist Route.
On this tour, you will enter the Miner’s Route from the Regis shaft in the city center of Wieliczka. The tour starts with visitors suiting up in coveralls and equipping themselves with headlamps and other mining tools. After descending 100+ meters beneath the surface, guides take visitors into the lives of salt miners.
Those who embark on this tour navigate the dark untouched mineshafts and test the air in various chambers and search for salt. The point of this route is to have an authentic experience. Visitors carry out the daily tasks of a miner for a truly unique tour.
Keep in mind, this tour involves physical activity and isn’t for every traveler, especially those with mobility issues. You will experience more temperature changes in this tour as well as exert physical energy – so dressing in layers is advised.
There are fewer options for this tour because it requires more resources – equipment and an experienced guide with knowledge of mining. Therefore, it is strongly suggested that you book ahead for this one. The link below is for booking the Miner’s Route with transportation from Krakow.
The Pilgrim's Route
The “God Bless” Pilgrim’s Route is a specialized journey beneath the surface to experience the faith of the miners. As a devoutly Catholic nation, the miners of Poland expressed their faith throughout the chambers and shafts of the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
You can book this version of the Wieliczka Salt Mine tour on their official website, as it takes some special arrangement.
The Graduation Tower
Now, if you’re worried about going underground and a little creeped out by the thought – you can experience the mines from above. Sure, it’s not quite the same, but if you visit the Graduation Tower near the Danilowicza shaft (start of the Tourist’s Route) you can climb the observation tour and breath in the salt air.
Believed to be therapeutic, locals constructed the tower above the deep salt mines to collect the rising air. It’s a fun way to experience this authentic tradition, even if you do journey below the surface.
Final Thoughts on Booking Wieliczka Salt Mine Tours
Now that you know all about the Wieliczka Salt Mine tours and how to book them, all you need to do is make it happen. Discover how this offbeat destination in Poland shaped the history and culture of Central Europe and the people who’ve lived there over the centuries.
There is no shortage of things to do in Krakow, but booking one of these salt mine tours will make your trip truly special. When I first heard of these salt mines near Krakow I really didn’t know what to expect. After the tour, it’s one of my favorite things to recommend anyone visiting the region.
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